NEW BETHLEHEM – Efforts to secure a K9 unit for the New Bethlehem Police Department got a big boost recently as a private donation was made to purchase the dog.
However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be seeing the K9 with the police department anytime soon.
Police Chief Robert Malnofsky told borough officials in November that after the local department lost out in a national contest to fund a K9 unit, an East Brady resident approached him and asked what it would cost to purchase the dog.
“When I told him the price he looked at me and said, ‘I’m buying the dog,’” Malnofsky said last week, noting that the anonymous donor dropped off $5,000 the next morning.
That amount, the chief said, would be enough to buy the animal, which would include the training needed for himself to work with the dog.
Additional fundraisers are being planned now to raise the money needed to pay to outfit a department truck with a kennel, and to provide other equipment, additional items and insurance needed for a fully operational K9 unit.
Malnofsky said the first fundraiser on the agenda will be dubbed the Battle of the Banks. He said donation accounts will be set up at participating banks in New Bethlehem, Rimersburg and East Brady — three of the four communities currently served by the department — and the bank that raises the most in donations will keep the police department’s K9 unit account going forward. As of last week, Malnofsky said three of the five banks in the towns said they would take part, and he was planning to reach out to the other two banks soon.
The chief said he would also like to hold a fundraising basketball tournament, which could possibly be held at the old East Brady High School gymnasium this winter.
A lottery raffle fundraiser is also a possibility, he said.
“Once I know I have the money, I’m going to reach out to the master trainer,” he said about purchasing the dog. At that point, he said, they will look at the dogs available and run the animals through various tests.
Once a dog is selected, Malnofksy said he would be involved with the animal for five weeks of training.
That time possibly away from the local police department has raised concerns with some borough officials.
“When I say that the dog’s funded privately, I get attacked,” Malnofksy said. He noted that while the purchase and training of the animal would be 100 percent privately funded, there would be some other costs such as his time and gas for the police truck that would not initially be funded unless the department can raise more money.
As for his time, Malnofksy noted that he is paid on a salary, and that he would take other shifts with the police department to offset the times spent training with the dog.
“What funding we fall short on, I’ll fund it,” he said. “I believe in this program or I wouldn’t be pushing it as hard as I’m pushing it.”
Why is the chief so passionate about the K9 project?
“The main reason is drugs,” he said of the problems in our local communities and schools.
Another main factor, he said, is that dogs are great public relations tools for police departments.
“An animal has the ability to bring a community together,” he said.
The way he looks at it, Malnofksy said, is that if the four communities that the department serves benefit from a K9 officer, and all they have to do is fund one vehicle in order to get the benefits, “aren’t they getting a bargain?”
Malnofksy said the department’s unused pickup truck is the perfect vehicle for the K9 unit. He said the truck is not much good for chasing down suspects, at least not since the department lost the contracts to patrol the dirt roads at Mahoning Dam or some of the nearby townships. Instead, he said, it can be outfitted with the kennel for the dog, and not take away from other vehicles the department uses for regular patrols.
Another benefit to having the dog, Malnofsky said, is that other police departments in the area could use the animal. Local schools and fire departments would also have access to the K9 officer.
In total, Malnofksy said the project needs to raise about $17,000.
“Once we get that we can start,” he said, noting that fundraising would be ongoing to keep paying for the costs year after year.
He said the private funding model he is using has worked for many other police departments.
At the borough council’s November meeting, council president Sandy Mateer commented that she’s been contacted by “a lot of people asking to donate.”
Malnofksy said that if the council chooses to wait until the fundraising is complete in order to move forward, he is fine with that as well.
“If we have to wait until we have everything, we’ll wait,” he said.
Malnofksy said that once the Battle of the Banks plans are finalized, information would be released to the public on how they can donate to the K9 unit project.